Imágenes de páginas

feeling somewhat uncomfortable at the dangerous proximity of so many thousands of armed men, urged Achille to get on as fast as he could, and again the cortège moved on. Not, however, without being espied, for at a turn of the road two persons came near to reconnoitre their early visitors.

Achille, addressing himself to Miss Isabel Crake, observed: “Ce sont des officiers,” and that young lady craning forward to see what French officers were like, very nearly fell out of the patache. She luckily recovered herself in time, but the slight accident was observed by the officers, who made a movement in advance to assist her, but finding that their services were not necessary they took off their caps and made her a low bow. Miss Crake blushed at the compliment and drew back, but the apparition of those two officers dwelt on her memory long after they were left behind, and it was probably owing to them that she did not address another word to Albert Criddle until they arrived at Boulogne, when she remarked, in a very supercilious manner, as he offered to assist her from the patache, that English politeness was too rare a thing ever to be neglected.”

The truth is, that when the fair Isabel so nearly lost her seat, Mr. Criddle was looking another way and did not perceive what the French officers noticed. But he saw them bow to his beloved, and this, coupled with the rebuke administered by Miss Crake, awakened in him a feeling very near akin to jealousy, and caused him to remark to his bosom friend, Ruggles, that “there was nothing manly about Fench officers ;" adding, savagely, that “their wide tousers were just like petticoats !"

The latter part of Mr. Criddle's remark was true enough ; but, on the score of manliness, it is probable his opinion betrayed some prejudice. I have seen and will describe the objects of his animadversion, and then you may judge for yourself.

Captain Prosper Chasseloup, of the 38th Regiment of the line, was one of the tallest men in the French army, with shoulders of Herculean breadth and a waist of wasp-like dimensions ; his native Provence and the sun of Africa had given him a complexion the colour of mahogany, and black as a coal were his spade-shaped beard and twisted moustache. His companion, Théophile Tanfin, the chirurgéon-major of the same regiment, was a very different looking sort of person : he, too, had been exposed to the rays of many a scorching sun, but what had bronzed the one had simply blistered the other, and he gave you the idea of a man who had just been scalded, an impression which was heightened by his very close-cut hair, through which you saw the red skin shining. Tanfin was as short and fat as Chasseloup was tall and muscular; good humour played over the blunt features of the surgeon, while a martial ferocity characterised those of the captain ; neither were very remarkable for refinement, but no one could deny that they looked very showy and splendid.

These two gallant officers had replaced the képis on their heads, their hands were once more thrust into the pockets of their ample red trousers, and the following colloquy ensued between them :

“Sais-tu, mon cher Théophile,” said the captain, “que cette jeune personne est très bien !”

“Par exemple, Prosper !” replied Tanfin, je la trouve délicieuse !"





“ Hein!” ejaculated Chasseloup.
“ Parole d'honneur !" returned the surgeon.
And then there was a short pause, during which each lit a cigar.

“Qu'est-ce-que c'est que ça ?" exclaimed Chasseloup, resuming the interrupted conversation.

« Où donc ?” demanded his friend, whose eyes had been following the retreating patache.

“ Là bas,” said Chasseloup, striding forward till he reached a small bush where something white was fluttering, which he stooped to pick up.

“As-tu attrappé quelque chose, Prosper ?”

“ Je crois bien, Théophile; voilà un très joli mouchoir ! Tiens! il y a un nom brodé au coin!"

“ A qui est-ce, alors ?”
“ Je ne saurais te dire. Nous allons voir."

And the two officers sat down on the turf to examine the handkerchief closer.

"1gb-e-l,” said the captain, spelling ; “ voilà un beau nom de baptême ! L'autre est plus dur : C-r-a-k-e, crack,-qu'est-ce que ça veut dire!”

The little surgeon mused for a moment; then he observed :

“ Ce n'est pas un nom Français ; mais c'est toujours le nom d'un individu."

“ Dis plutôt de cette jeune personne que nous venons de voir. Elle l'a laissé tomber. O comme ça sent le musc !"

“Je parie qu'elle est Anglaise," said Tanfin, with the air of a man who had made a great discovery.

“ Tu te connais donc en Anglaises ?" observed Chasseloup. “ Pas du tout,” rejoined the other; “je n'en ai jamais vu; pas plus “ Comment-done as-tu trouvé qu'elle est Anglaise ?" “ Parce qu'elle n'est pas Française ; y a pas mèche !"

The logic of the chirurgéon-major was not very convincing ; but logic is of little consequence when you think you are right, and Tanfin was not only perfectly satisfied, but easily inclined his friend to his own opinion.

Releasing himself from the pressure of two buttons, the athletic captain thrust the perfumed handkerchief into his bosom, and the bugle sounding at that moment, the officers returned to their military duties, one, if not both of them, desperately smitten with the fair Englishwoman.

It does not take long to acclimatise English people at Boulogne, and on the day after his arrival Mr. Crake declared that he felt himself quite at home.

“ That's to say," he observed confidentially to Albert Criddle, as they met on the pier before breakfast," as much at home as one can be in a foreign land. Damme, Sir, there's nothing foreign here but the language, and the money, and the people ;-it's only frongs for shillings, van ordinaire for beer, and combang' for what's the price of this here article ?' To be sure," he added, “their ways ain't ours exactly, but they can't help that, and if you take 'em in the lump I don't think they're such bad fellers after all ! Come up and have some breakfast, Criddle, Bell will be glad to see you, and so will Mrs. Crake; I'll be bound she's been into

que toi !"


the marshy already ; five-and-twenty eggs for a shilling would take any woman out of her bed at daylight.”

Marketing was, in fact, the stockbroker's greatest pleasure ; it seems, indeed, to be the one object for which the greater part of our country; men go to Boulogne. That he might lose no opportunity Mr. Crake had taken a lodging in the Place d'Alton, directly opposite the principal entrance to the church of St. Nicholas.

“ I've got the whole of an 'ouse,” he continued, “ except the shop, and from my drawing-room, Sir, on the first-floor, I can marshandy as much as I please. Why it was only last night I bought as fine a young goose for three frongs as ever you set eyes on. The poultry-woman holds it up in the marshy, and looking at me as I was standing at the winder, with my hands in my pockets, Tray bong, musseer,' says she ; 'Combang,' says I ; Sank frong,' says she; Doo,' says 1,- and walks away and sets down to dinner in our sallong. Damme, Sir, I'd hardly took my seat and was just helping the pottage, when I heard a devil of a clatter on the stairs, bang open flies the door, and in busts the poultrywoman swinging the goose by the neck. Down she plumps it on the dinner-table and says she’h let me have it for four frongs; I offer her three, she takes it, and leaves the goose behind : that's what I call the way to marshandy."

Mr. Crake forgot to add that when the cook saw his purchase she informed him he had been “done,” but as the stockbroker refused to acknowledge the fact she privately determined to add fifty per cent. more to everything she bought for household consumption, and she never swerved from that resolve.

The apartments in the Place d'Alton were, however, pleasant enough for those who did not mind noise, “ You could see everything that was going on," said Mr. Crake. “And be seen by everybody," thought the fair Isabel, and, “for the sake of the costumes," which were “so picturesque," she took up a permanent position with her drawing-materials at one of the windows ; the stockbroker, while he was in the house, occupied another ; and Mrs. Crake, with her netting, filled up a third.

Albert Criddle had not taken a lodging, giving the preference to a boarding-house, “because," as he said, “at the table-doats you get hold of the language so much quicker.” He therefore, at the instigation of Raggles, who was attracted by the name, took up his quarters at O'Leary's “ Marine Boarding House,” where all the guests were English, and the Anglo-French tongue was spoken in the greatest purity. Mr. Sawkins was also an inmate of the same establishment, and so was the gallant Mr. Pike; what became of the rest of the passengers of the Stickfast, I never knew.

The coldness of Isabel towards Mr. Criddle at the close of their journey, or the novelty of the situation—I am not sure which—had caused that young man to throw himself" headlong into all the dissipation of the Marine Boarding House. He lost a bottle of champagne in a reckless bet with Mr. O'Leary, the very first day he dined there;- as did Ruggles; and be also lost ten francs at ecarté to the same gentleman on the same evening-Ruggles likewise participating. The two friends were, however, consoled for their losses by the information they acquired, Mr. O'Leary kindly putting them up to all that was going on at Boulogne,


except what he kept back on his own account. It was he who described to Mr. Criddle the splendours of the “ Etablissement,” how once a week there was a regular ball there, and every evening “the best society.”

Primed with this knowledge, which he rightly judged would make his presence more welcome to Miss Crake, the manly Albert accepted the stockbroker's invitation and accompanied him to the Place d'Alton. Isabel, when he entered, was in the act of sketching the market-place, with the Corps-de-Garde in the distance, beautifully proportioned and wonderfully out of perspective; her reception of him was the more gracious as he began by saying he was “passionately fond of drawing," and vowed the sketch was as good as anything at the “Oyal Academy;" nor did it diminish in warmth when he imparted some of the information which he had gathered at O'Leary's. He had already been down to have a look at the Etablissement; it was his intention, he said, “to subskibe for a month;" and he earnestly advised Mrs. Crake to take a family season-ticket. When this recommendation was enforced by the expression of Isabel's wish to that effect, the stockbroker at once agreed, and the whole party were formally entered the same morning.

Albert Criddle was neither Macbeth nor Orestes, but he was as much the victim of destiny as either. Had he known how fatal the Etablissement was to be to his dearest hopes, he would, as he afterwards solemnly declared to Ruggles, “ he would ’ather have found a gave beneath its 'uins than have 'itten his name down as a subskiber!”

-a fearful avowal which I almost shudder to record.

But great as the attraction of the Etablissement might be, there was an attraction at Boulogne greater far, respecting which Albert Criddle had been silent. Whether from accident or design he had said nothing about the Camp on the heights. But Isabel Crake had not forgotten it; and the beautifully foreshortened guard-house would alone have reminded her of “the military," if her memory had proved treacherous, which was not the case. She very distinctly remembered, not only that the Camp existed, but that amongst the officers lodged there was the tallest and handsomest man she had ever seen,“ with such eyes and such a lovely pair of moustaches." Accordingly, she never rested till she had found out all about the Camp from Mademoiselle Clorinde, the little modiste in the Rue l'Ecu, where she went the first thing to order the bonnet which her papa had promised. That voluble damsel told her, without much pressing, that there were two days in the week, Thursdays and Sundays, when the bands played and all the world went there; that she herself never meant to miss a single Sunday as long as the Camp lasted, and would go every day if she could; that it was so gay, the officers were so agreeable; that it was, in short, Heaven;" — which was saying as much for the Camp as was possible, and far more than was likely.

If, however, the Camp fell short of celestial attributes, it had many earthly ones to recommend it. So at least thought Isabel Crake, after hearing the flattering report of Mademoiselle Clorinde, who, with true womanly sympathy, vowed she would put everything else aside that the bonnet might be ready for immediate execution. She kept her word, I am happy to say; the bonnet was an extremely pretty one, and Miss



Crake looked “ravissantewhen she put it on, which was, of course, the instant it came home.

To get up a party for a visit to the Camp was a thing very speedily effected. An open carriage held Mr. and Mrs. Crake, the fair Isabel and Mr. Sawkins, who came by invitation from O'Leary's; as did also Mr. Pike, who sat on the box, and Albert and Ruggles, who occupied the rumble.

Mr. Sawkins, having recovered from the fatigues of the impromptu journey from Audresselles, had made himself up for ladies, and came out in great force in a white hat and nankeen trousers and gaiters, with clove pink in his button-hole and lemon-coloured kid gloves; he was, moreover, highly odorous of lavender-water, and altogether presented as fine a specimen of the buck-antique as can readily be met with now-adays. His compliments were not the newest, nor his anecdotes the most racy that can be imagined, but such as they were he dribbled them out "in one weak, washy, everlasting flow" from the time of leaving the Place d'Alton until the carriage arrived within sight of the Camp. Unmindful of that circumstance--indeed, unconscious of it, for he sat with his back to the horses--he was in the act of relating how he and the late Lord Pumpernickel, whom he remembered to have seen at the Opera the first night of Catalani's appearance in London, were of exactly the same age, “which he ventured to call a curious coincidence”

-when he was cut short by a shout of delight from Mr. Pike, who intimated from his place of 'vantage, that “the enemy were debouching from a masked battery on the left flank,” which military expression, reduced to more accurate terms, meant simply that the men were forming on their separate parade-grounds, there being no enemy, no masked battery, and no debouching, except in Mr. Pike's ardent imagination. The announcement was, however, quite sufficient to direct the general attention of the party to the scene before them, and Mr. Sawkins was obliged to reserve the remainder of the anecdote about Lord Pumpernickel till a more favourable occasion; no very great deprivation to his audience, for it was of a kind that would keep.

The heights on which the French army are encamped are not quite so . level as a bowling-green, and before the carriage had proceeded very far from the high road it was suggested by one of the party-need I say, by Mr. Sawkins?—that it would, perhaps, be pleasanter to alight and walk over the ground. This proposition was distasteful to none: it gave Albert Criddle the opportunity of offering his arm to Isabel, and enabled the stockbroker to stretch his legs ; so the driver was ordered to follow slowly with the carriage, and the suggestion of Mr. Sawkins was adopted.

As the day was Sunday the military operations of the troops were limited to a roll-call, after which they were dismissed to amuse themselves as they felt inclined. A good many made their liberty available for an excursion to the town and harbour, others straggled across the country in various directions, but the greater number remained in camp, desirous of doing the honours to the crowds of visitors who came flocking from all parts. They were of every kind and degree, not the least conspicuous amongst them being the class of which Mademoiselle Clorinde was an ornament; indeed, it may be safely said that the toilettes of these

« AnteriorContinuar »